Navratilova, Graf stay course with Wimbledon wins

June 30, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England -- It has been 11 years since anyone other than Steffi Graf or Martina Navratilova has won the Wimbledon women's title.

It looks as if it soon will be 12.

Yesterday, Graf and Navratilova rolled closer to their seemingly inevitable confrontation in the final.

Navratilova needed just 50 minutes to dispatch Natalia Zvereva, a good grass-court player, 6-3, 6-1.

And Graf didn't even flinch when she faced set point on her own serve at 5-3 in the first set against Jennifer Capriati.

Flinch? She didn't even notice it.

"She had a set point?" Graf asked after her 7-6 (7-3), 6-1 victory. "On my serve? When did she have a set point?"

When told it had come at 5-3 and 30-40, Graf blushed.

"I was just taking it point by point at that stage, so I didn't know," she said. "I always try not to pay any attention to the score. Sometimes, it works. Probably it worked very well today."

Now, she will meet Conchita Martinez, who won her quarterfinal against Helena Sukova, 6-1, 6-4.

"What do I think about facing Steffi?" Martinez said. "Well, it means I am in the semifinals, and that's great. For the rest, we'll see what happens."

Navratilova will meet No. 8 seed Jana Novotna, who defeated No. 4 Gabriela Sabatini, 6-4, 6-3, in a mild upset.

For a while, it seemed Capriati might give Graf a struggle, but after breaking her in the fifth game, Capriati could not maintain the pace.

Graf broke back in the 10th and eventually forced the tiebreaker. Once there, she rolled off the first five points and eventually won, 7-3.

"This was the first match that I finally got to the stage where I had to hit some good points," Graf said. "Jennifer played very well in the first set. I think I needed to face some pressure before I go to the semifinals, and she gave me that. She tried a lot more things than she usually does. She changed the pace of her serve and she mixed up her shots and she should have won the first set."

But for Capriati, who has lost to Graf in the quarterfinals of the Australian and French opens, the third time was not the charm.

In fact, Capriati has managed to beat Graf only once in eight meetings -- at the 1992 Summer Olympics, where Capriati won the gold medal.

"In that match, the surface was clay; this is grass," Capriati said. "And I played a great match. I fought all the way and I was in there for three sets and just about every point and I really forced her to make errors. I made the great shot at the right time."

This was different. Graf decided to go for every shot early. "I didn't want to be on the defensive," she said. So she set out to take advantage of the inconsistency she sees in Capriati's game.

Capriati blamed some of her problems yesterday on fatigue, because while Graf has been blitzing all comers, Capriati has been involved in three-set nail-biters that, at times, have made her appear to be wearing wading boots instead of tennis shoes.

But her biggest problem was Graf.

"Once Steffi starts rolling, she starts rolling," said Capriati. "When she's in the groove, she makes great shots, and it's hard to get back into it. It's very definitely hard to convince yourself that you can get back in it, when she's hitting great shots.

"And my energy level was low in the second set. I felt it even before the match. In the locker room when I was getting dressed, I just said to myself, 'Wow, what a long tournament.' "

This was Graf's longest match of the fortnight, but it still lasted only an hour and 15 minutes.

The way Graf and Navratilova have been advancing unchallenged has fueled further talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the women's draw.

After Graf had won her third- and fourth-round matches -- 6-0, 6-0, and 6-1, 6-4 -- she was begging for some competition. Navratilova, 36, said yesterday she has advanced to the semifinals "easier than I can ever remember at Wimbledon," despite a sore ankle.

Can this be good for women's tennis?

"I'm a cripple, and I'm still beating up on them," Navratilova said. "I guess they're really lousy players. I mean that facetiously.

"I'm playing as good tennis as I ever have in my career," she said. "If I was 25 and playing like this, no one would say anything about the women's game. I'm telling you, age doesn't matter. I know I'm technically better than I've ever been and that I move better than 99 percent of the women out there."

Perhaps, for this week at least, only Graf is moving better, and both are on personal missions.

Navratilova is trying to win her 10th Wimbledon singles title. Graf is trying to find perfection.

"I've been No. 1 so much, it doesn't matter any more," Graf said. "I am playing now for myself, to get better and better. I am a long way from perfection, but I am working on it."

For anyone other than Graf and Navratilova to make it to the championship match, she may well have to be perfect.



Centre Court

Pete Sampras (1), Tampa, Fla., vs. Andre Agassi (8), Las Vegas Boris Becker (4), Germany, vs. Michael Stich (6), Germany

Court 1

Todd Martin, East Lansing, Mich., vs. Jim Courier (3), Dade City, Fla.Cedric Pioline, France, vs. Stefan Edberg (2), Sweden

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